Many thanks to The Advocate and Sara Pagones for her fine story “Pandemic adds issues for special education” (Aug. 17).
A significant number of special-needs students learn only in person. For these children, “virtual” school means no school. No classroom learning, no therapeutic services. By Labor Day, special needs students in school districts with exclusively online schooling will have gone without instruction or services for almost six months. The devastating impact on these students — and the crushing weight on the families who love them — is incalculable.
Every district’s plan should address the distinctive needs of students with disabilities who are unable to access education online — students protected by law from being abandoned by their districts. When the East Baton Rouge school district announced on July 22 its “all-virtual learning model for all students August 10 through Labor Day,” the plan made no provision whatsoever for special-needs students unable to learn online.
School districts are taking extraordinary measures to support students, such as providing every student a laptop. Special-needs students who learn only in person also need extraordinary and creative provisions.
In East Baton Rouge district schools, special education teachers and paraprofessionals are offering instruction from actual empty classrooms every school day — while their students with disabilities stay home. These are self-contained classes often with no more than eight students. Some students interact with their teachers online, but many cannot. How can such a squandering of public resources possibly make sense?
Districts such as EBR that have opened online can still choose to provide in-person options for some of their special education students. They can do it now. It is hard to imagine a safer place for six to eight students than a clean classroom in a nearly empty building.
Schools and districts are making difficult decisions — and then recalibrating — daily. In this bewildering landscape, we are all watching and learning from the experiences of schools across the country and all over the world. What if our region’s school districts actually took a lead in providing for the most vulnerable students?
Offering special education instruction and services to students who need them, in public buildings standing idle, is the kind of out-of-the-ordinary move the situation demands — along the lines of providing every student a laptop, the extraordinary measure most districts have already taken.
As Sara Pagones’ article shows, some special-needs students’ circumstances mean families will not feel confident sending them to school in person. Districts have to address how to provide for students who cannot learn online and who cannot safely attend school. If there is no plan, a remedy must be offered for these children and the families who care for them. But for many children and adolescents with disabilities, in-person school would be a lifeline.
advocate and caregiver